The Four Dunstable Witches
In spring 1667 four Dunstable women were brought before the judges Sir Wadham Wyndham and Sir William Morton. They were accused of witchcraft; the most serious charge being that of bewitching small children to death.
The first woman to be brought before the judges was Elizabeth Pratt who was examined and found to have witches' marks upon her body. She in turn accused three of her neighbours, Mary Poole (an innkeepers wife), Ursula Clarke (the wife of a labourer) and Mary Hudson (a butcher's wife) of committing the crime of bewitchment which she herself denied. She did admit however that the Devil had appeared to her in the forms of a man, a woman and a cat and that he had made a contract with her promising her that she would live as well as the best woman in Dunstable "but that she now found him a lyer". Elizabeth went on to say that there were some twenty other witches in Dunstable that wore better clothes than she, but she would not reveal any of them yet.
There is no evidence of a prosecution at this time but later in the year Elizabeth had further charges made against her; this time she was accused of causing the deaths of John and Josias, the sons of Josias Settle, a barber surgeon. According to the record she had come to the Settles' house begging for food and while there she had stroked John's head, saying that the brothers were her boys. Two days later John became ill and cried out "Murder, murder, I am bewitched". This resulted in the neighbours fetching Elizabeth and forcing the boy to scratch her with a pin to see if he could make her bleed (it was believed that witches could not bleed if treated in this way). True to popular belief it was found that she could not.
As a result of these accusations Elizabeth was sent to the County Gaol but before the Assizes could take place she died in prison. By coincidence or perhaps by some other means the two judges died soon after!
- Crime in Bedfordshire 1660-1688 by Evelyn Curtis (Elstow Moot Hall Leaflet no. 4, 1973)
Page last updated: 24th January 2014